Courtesy of Kurt Brownell

Eastman School of Music alumni and couple Jeff Beal ‘85E and Joan Beal ‘84E, a noted composer and vocalist respectively, officially committed $2 million to Eastman for the creation of the Beal Institute for Film Music and Contemporary Media on Sept. 1. Separate from the institute, Eastman has been developing a degree in film scoring and digital media under the Jazz and Contemporary Media department for the past few years. The degree program and the institute are expected to launch in the fall of 2016.

Jamal Rossi, the Joan and Martin Messinger Dean of Eastman, explained in a phone interview that the goal of the institute is to “create opportunities” for students to cross “between classical music and jazz and all these artificial boundaries we put up, to do really creative projects, and that’s whether it’s film music or contemporary media.”

“So the opportunities are for those who are writing music but also for those students who are then playing music or have projects they would like to undertake. And that’s where I think the real beauty of the institute is, in that it’s not home to offer a degree […] it is a place to provide really special and unique opportunities for projects, for bringing guest artists, to do things like Jeff did– bring a guest and let them come and really work through a project with them together.”

Mr. Beal, a 15-time Emmy nominee and three-time Emmy winner, graduated from Eastman with a Bachelor of Music degree with High Distinction and will serve as the institute’s artistic director. Among his wide range of work, he has scored films and television series like Ugly Betty, The Newsroom and House of Cards. He frequently plays instruments for his own scores.

Mrs. Beal, a vocalist who graduated from Eastman with a Bachelors of Music Degree, has premiered works by famed composers and performed in numerous professional ensembles. She has provided vocals for the House of Cards score as well as many other film and television works.

In a phone interview, Mrs. Beal explained that “Eastman has always been very important to us, because it was the foundation of our musical training and we always felt we owed a lot to our training.” The two also met at Eastman and married after Mr. Beal’s junior year.

She and Mr. Beal, she said, had been discussing “wanting to help the school” for many years, and they eventually decided that the donation and staying involved would be the “best way” to do it.

She credited passionate Eastman students for “getting us excited about staying involved,” noting recent Eastman graduates Dylan Price and Michael Staffeldt for founding the Empire Film Music Ensemble (EFME) two years ago while they were students. EFME performed live music to accompany film screenings in a concert headlined by Mr. Beal last April.

“Seeing how excited the students were about this? That’s what we’re doing it for,” she said. “Whenever we go back and just see the students, and what they’re doing and how creative they are and how talented they are, we feel an impetus to help them out. Because we know what that feels like, when you’re starting out your career but you don’t know what job opportunities are out there or how your skills will fit into the larger world.”

Audiences have been showing increased interest in hearing music composed for contemporary media, Mrs. Beal added.

“The lines are blurring between what we might say is traditional symphonic repertoire and music for media that’s being performed by these ensembles,” she said. “What we’re hoping to teach are the skills that will enable students to create music in whatever style, whatever genre they want, utilizing the current technology […] We’re saying here’s a tool, now do with it what you will to create music that will accompany visuals.”

Lai is a member of

the class of 2018.



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